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Adam Ragusea

As someone who works from 4 AM to 4, 5, or 6 PM each day grinding out the news of what's going on in my little city, I'm trying not to take extreme umbrage at having my words taken so wildly out of context.

My god, Ashley, I write tight. I write on deadline. Dozens of deadlines per day, in fact. I write and deliver six newscasts every morning in between hosting 15 additional local station breaks, all requiring weather, PSA, traffic, and promotional copy I have to prepare myself while also running the board. I insert at least one and often several more local interviews a week that I book, tape, and cut by myself, often a few harrowing moments before air. And that's the Morning Edition half of my day.

Then comes the reporting half of my day, in which I report and produce at least one daily news package for my statewide news network, which includes a spot, a cut & copy version, and an AP-style web write-thru with original photo(s) and accompanying extras (such as extended interviews). I have a great editor but no other help. I gather additional material for my local-only casts, usually at least one or two other sound items per day.

In between all of that, I report and produce a couple feature-length pieces a month, attend about a million meetings with students, faculty, and newspaper reporters in conjunction with the new Center for Collaborative Journalism at Mercer University (for which I spearhead GPB's involvement), pitch my butt off in hour after hour of on-air fundraisers, and I could go on and on and on.

My point is, this is not Marketplace. I am, at present, the only journalist in my office, trying provide daily, comprehensive local coverage for a beguilingly complex urban and rural coverage area spanning 13 counties, inhabited by about half a million deeply diverse people.

I do this with a smile on my face and a song in my heart because I believe I’m fighting the good fight. I do this because I love my organization, GPB. I do this in Macon, Ga. for considerably less compensation than I was drawing at the enormous, national program production house, big-city station I came from (willingly and happily). And you think I want to be the next Radiolab?

When I told Current’s Andrew Lapin “I hate daily news,” I was saying that I hate the preposterous, sisyphean struggle many small stations engage in every day to do something we are utterly unequipped to do. My newspaper partners at the Telegraph of Macon struggle mightily to do daily news for the same market with dozens of reporters (a fraction of what they had a few years ago). I can’t do what they do by myself, and not with five of me.

What is left to do? Build on the historic strengths of our organization and our medium. Pick one or two stories a week on which I can make a real impact, bringing listeners voices and sounds that move them and help them understand the issues of their community more intimately. For lack of a less-abused term, give them driveway moments.

By partnering with a badass and bold local newspaper and a stunningly forward-thinking university, we at GPB hope to gradually leverage more of their strengths with ours to give news consumers in Middle Georgia something close to the media they deserve.

To conclude, I think you have a valid point to make about up-and-coming pub radio talent preferring quirky long-form narratives over mundane but meaningful spots. Kids these days.

But when a lot of us talk about wanting to escape the daily news trap, what we’re really talking about is wanting to pick our battles more wisely.

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Adam, if that quote from Current was taken out of context I apologize, and in fact I meant to add a line in there saying just that - that perhaps the quote needed some context that wasn't in the piece (it wasn't clear to me from reading the piece that it meant anything other than what it read on the surface). I will amend my post to reflect this. Clearly you work your ass off and it was not my intention to insult you. I should have thought more carefully before naming you in the piece. I read that quote on my way back from a conference that seemed to turn up its nose at daily news and this seemed to fit in with that. So again, I apologize - I clearly took the quote to mean something it did not. Thank you for clarifying so eloquently.

Neenah Ellis

Hi Ashley,

I'm with you.

I started my radio career as a small-town, one person, commercial radio news department, doing a newscast every hour from 6 am til 6 pm. I went from there to a job at a public radio station where I also did newscasts but was given a chance to stretch out and do some long-form stories, which I craved. From there to ATC, cutting many interviews a day and writing a lot of copy for demanding and hosts and on breathtaking deadlines. I admire people who produce the daily news. It's so hard to do well. I liked it to writing haiku. I can even be wowed by tv reporters who can produce amazing results in very short formats.

I've concluded that very few people who attend Third Coast have had news experience. I've been to nearly every conference.

It's hard to convince people that daily news is a great foundation for everything else you might want to do. It teaches you to think on your feet, write tight and fast make fast decisions. (I still have trouble with the idea of transcribing tape)

In the 80s - before Third Coast began - news experience seemed much more common because, it seemed, that more people had worked at stations. Now people are coming to Third Coast from a huge variety of backgrounds. In one session I went to this year, a show of hands confirmed my suspicion - at least half of the attendees considered themselves "audio" producers and not "radio" producers.

Radio producers - and news folks - live in the moment. They don't work on pieces for weeks or months.

Ira worked for ATC and there, I can assure you, he had to write short and fast. But he had other ideas about how to tell stories and he's right, there are other ways. But he is such a loud voice in the world of independents that they barely even know the names of good news reporters. Robert Smith is one and he's great. There are so many others. Those people, I'm pretty sure, know VERY LITTLE about the world of TCIAF. People like Ira and Robert Krulwich who toiled in the daily news vineyards found another path. Not everyone wants to or sees the need.

I suspect that it's at the PRNDI conference where there's more talk - and dare I say respect - for those who see their mission as the daily news.

all best to you and good luck

KevinOnTheDesk

There was a time when radio was the public's first choice for news. If you are fortunate enough to live in a market that still has an all-news station, that's great. If not, you hope there's a news-talk station that actually does news. Alas, even that does not exist in too many cities. Public radio may have become the last source for news on the radio.

That means the public will depend on stations at the bottom of the dial for 5-minute newscasts and 35-second wraps. Does that mean having to think "commercial" sometimes? Yes. Does that mean giving up creativity? No. You can still seek out that great quote, a good site for a ROSR and rise to the challenge of a gallon of information in a pint of time. And you can do it several ways on the same story!

Amy Mayer

The other point about daily news is that without it, there would be no TAL or Radiolab. I'd wager that every single station that's affiliated with NPR builds its entire program schedule around Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Many even grabbed Day to Day when it existed. Without daily news, the listenership wouldn't be there when the longer format shows come on.

On the print side, many (most?) young reporters aspire to write for The New Yorker or the Atlantic. Most never will. But because they read and love those magazines, some write much better copy for their local papers than they would otherwise. Similarly, daily news producers draw upon the experience of their day-to-day mentors and editors as well as the producers of longer form work to inform their own work. I think the reason Third Coast seems to dis daily news is because it's the bread-and-butter of the industry, not the dessert.

Karen Brown

As a longtime daily radio news reporter (as well as feature/documentary producer) I've often had the same thoughts as you -- that daily (especially local) news reporting is considered a distant second or third to creative, longform work. Daily news by definition draws much less attention to itself (and often the highly skilled, dogged reporting is just not evident to the untrained eye in the final product. You simply got the facts right.) I notice, with occasional envy, that many longform creative pieces put less focus on actual reporting than on craft and sound. But I've also come to accept that to do either form well, you require specific talents and skills. And I hear this from my print colleagues as well...who feel their daily reporting is less respected than the New Yorker articles others are writing. I have always aspired to do both (granted, a challenge to the constraints of time and funding) -- and I feel sure than my news experience gives gravitas to my longform work, and my longform experience helps me tell a compelling hard news story in 90 seconds.

That said, I can understand that when you're a freelance producer without a regular daily gig, and you feel compelled to work many hours on a labor of love -- that's unlikely to be spot news. That demographic may be a large part of the Third Coast crowd. That's one reason I also like to go to hard-core journalism conferences and gatherings, where I may be one of the only rado reporters, but I am reminded of the allure and importance of basic news gathering.

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Karen, I still remember your piece on the cinema in MA that has special shows for autistic kids and their families. Thanks for posting. Agree with all your points.

Ellen Rocco

North Country Public Radio has invested in local news for more than 30 years. We've trained and mentored a lot of public media journalists at this station. Every one who comes through this shop develops reporting chops...and creative storytelling chops. It's NOT one or the other. It's both, often simultaneously. Why? Because we think about our audience: what they need--news, the bedrock of our democracy (I am not being sarcastic, I MEAN THIS); and what they want--their stories told well.

For those who wish to be the next Ira or Jad, sure, go for it! Learn to tell the best story possible--and find your own voice. We need new talent, new voices in our public radio world.

For those who wish to have a daily impact on their communities, take the news of your community seriously, whether urban neighborhood or a half a rural state. Do the best possible job. All news IS local...even national and international news: just think about the presidential race and how that news is being reported in, say, Bowling Green Kentucky vs. San Francisco.

Unless you're planning to be an avant garde audio artiste, never forget to do right by the people you see in the local grocery store.

eve

Ashley, you're right on. There's a rhythm, dare I say a purity, in daily news writing. Sure everyone should have a fussy magnum opus in their pocket, one where they extend a pause between words and drop that (oh here it comes!) tango instrumental at the sweet spot engineered precisely for narrative drama.

But there's work to do, people. Good work. And hard work. No shame in doing it. It's a service, and it feels very very satisfying to nail your 60-second spot, file the script, hear it air live, and go home. To work on your magnum opus. Or just live your life.

Mike

"Unless you're planning to be an avant garde audio artiste, never forget to do right by the people you see in the local grocery store."

+1

Eric Mennel

Thanks for this, Ashely.

I think it's easy to write this off as an attitude problem on the part of independent producers. But it is a two way street.

While independents in the "audio" world write off NPR News pretty quickly, NPR's presence at Third Coast was pretty minimal. With the exception of Robert Smith and Kelly McEvers (both of whom are exceptional in a number of ways) there seemed to be very little outreach on the part of the big news orgs to court this group. It feels a little like an awkward stepparent/stepchild relationship, where the producers don't want to like The Man, and NPR doesn't really NEED them to do what they do best. Having no real understanding as to how NPR might make itself more present at events like Third Coast, it seems to me like both parties could stand to take a step back and realize the value in the others work (and how they might make each others work better).

As someone who got there start in local news and now works on longform, the most memorable moment at Third Coast for me was Gregory Warner's acceptance speech for his Best News Feature award. He told the indie community (and I'm paraphrasing) that the way to make the news better is for them to start doing it. It was such a relief to hear someone say that. I think indies are a little too scared of news orgs stifling them, and news orgs are a little too scared of indies wanting to use metaphors. Everybody wants to do what they do better! Collaboration from both parties is probably the way to go about that.

Tanya Ott

Lots of wisdom here (** waves hand ** "Hi Friends!"), so I'll just follow up on a couple of points:

@Ashley - great points made here. And honestly, not surprised you found that. When I was very active in AIR (airmedia.org), even serving on their board in the last 90's early 2000's there was continual tension between the "news producers" (which there weren't a lot of us) and the "creative types". I remember one of the latter lamenting that it was so hard to make a living as an independent producer because stations just didn't appreciate the time, talent, effort it took into producing the 9,000-part series he/she produced on indigenous music or something like that. I'm not trying to mean. I'd heard the show. It was interesting. But I think what was lost in the conversation is that even though we're public radio we're a business and if nobody's buying you can't just keep beating the drum and hoping they'll wise up and decide your pet project is the best thing since....

@Karen -- to continue the point above, the idea that as a freelancer you'd want to toil on a labor of love never occurred to me when I was freelancing full-time. I actually made my bread and butter ($54K the last year) off of spot news and occasional features. I think it's a very under-appreciated revenue stream for freelancers. At that time one national public radio show I was freelancing for had a grant that paid $125 for a :42 spot story. As a contracted stringer I did 2 of those a week. That's $1k a month just from spots! Now, this was a while ago and those kinds of deals aren't out there these days (or if they are.... tell me!). But even so, three spot stories a week for NPR would pay more than $400/month.

God, I sound like it's all about the money. But honestly, if you're freelancing full time it often is. You have to pay your bills and that means doing cost-benefit analysis of creativity versus productivity.

I don't think the two are mutually exclusive. As @Neenah and @KevinontheDesk point out there's still an art to doing solid daily news spots. They can be fun and creative. Same thing for work-a-day feature length stories. Robert Smith is a great example. <3 his work!

And finally, as I have to get into an edit -- and it's hour 10 of my day -- two parting thoughts:

@Adam - get ye to a 12 step group! You're still in the honeymoon period and hopefully you'll get your 2nd staffer soon, but 11 and 12 hour days every day will kill you! Yes, there's lots of news to cover. There always is. But you can't cover it all. And if you try to it simply reinforces with management that it should expect news staffer to do whatever it takes, all the time, to cover the community.

@Ellen - rock on with your bad selves!! <3 me some NCPR too....

Katherine-Claire O'Connor

As a relatively new graduate (eh, might be pushing it) I was one of many student radio lovers who idolized Ira Glass, Robert Krulwich, and the like. But the moment I landed myself in an actual news room, I pushed those Radio Lab/TAL dreams to the back burner.

I'm not producing witty and audio rich human interest pieces. Try moth infestations, highway construction, and parking meters instead. Glamorous I know. But since I've added the basics to my repertoire, and feel more equipped and marketable because of it. Gotta know the rules before you break them, right? Now back to my story on school district funding...

Laura Candler

First of all, Ashley, Adam, and everyone else - thanks for expressing yourselves so clearly on this subject and not letting first impressions lie where they fell at Third Coast. I appreciate the depths to which this conversation has gone.

I'm adding my thoughts here because I am also part of this puzzle, and a very new part. In asking advice from more seasoned producers, both independent producers and news reporters, I've received a lot of different answers about what to do and what not to do, and even some eye-rolling that comes with the assumption that just because I attended Salt and am a new radio producer, I automatically want to make long-form narrative pieces and put them on TAL! While shows like that are inspirational and meaningful, I think it's important to keep in mind that there are new producers out there that are interested in place-based radio and appreciate what well-reported localized news can do for a community.

Speaking personally, the reason I quit my job early this year to attend Salt and embark on a new career path I knew little about was yes, to learn more about storytelling with radio and multimedia - but more to the point - to do something more meaningful. Yes, I'd been inspired by TAL and Radiolab and all the other wonderful podcasts out there (including Broad Experience). But I'm also inspired by news. I grew up listening to GPB (Adam, glad you've joined the network!) and took local news for granted until I moved to a place with absolutely no local news programming and realized what a hole it leaves. (WUTC in Chattanooga, TN, where I currently live, has a news staff of 4, but their "news" consists mainly of interviews with local people & nonprofits & is scheduled weeks in advance.) News is important, but it also has to be relevant and meaningful, or else what's the point?

Since graduating from Salt earlier this year, I've been involved in one of the Localore-funded projects in North Dakota, producing place-based stories about the oil boom. This is the kind of stuff that is meaningful, relevant, uses narrative techniques, and most importantly lets a community hear the voices of its fellow citizens during an important part of the state's history. It's not long-form narrative. It's not hard news. But it matters to the people here and possibly elsewhere. And it feels good to be a part of it. In the future, I hope to continue to produce stories that matter to a community, via news or otherwise. And I think it's important for radio producers with news experience to keep in mind that the younger folks aren't all metaphor and drama.

-Laura

Ashley Milne-Tyte

Thanks for all these thoughtful responses. It's interesting to hear about everyone's experiences and to know I am not alone in appreciating all a simple news story can do.

Masayuki

I understand your pain.That guy you dsbirceed? The guy who knew absolutely everything about anything? Yeah, that used to be me too.I have Huffington, CNN, BBC, NYT, Google News. All bookmarked. All default tabs. But I don't read. Hardly. Sometimes. Rarely. The sad truth is, a cat doing backflips is way more arresting than the economic crisis of Europe.I've done all that. Used apps that restrict time spent on frivolous' web pages, forced myself, but it does not work.No online newspaper, can in my view, ever recreate the magic of good ol' news'papers'. And that's why in the past month or so, I make it a point to have my breakfast with the newspaper by my side. But even that does not work. It's just not enough information.So, I turn to from whence I came. To le interwebz. Somehow though, always, I end up to a post with the captions I can haz cheezeburger .

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